Arab states scorn ‘evil’ Iran
SOURCE: The Guardian
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged Iran‘s foreign minister to “spare us your evil” in a meeting that reflected profound Arab hostility to the Islamic Republic – a recurrent theme of high-level private conversations in the Middle East in recent times.
Leaked state department cables catalogue a litany of complaints from the Saudis and smaller Gulf states, as well as Egypt, Jordan and others, on issues from Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, to its involvement in Iraq and support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas.
“You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters,” the Saudi monarch was quoted as telling Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister. “Iran’s goal is to cause problems,” he continued in a conversation with a senior White House official. “There is no doubt something unstable about them.”
Abdullah declared: “May God prevent us from falling victim to their evil. We have had correct relations over the years, but the bottom line is that they cannot be trusted.” US diplomats recorded similar comments earlier this year from the United Arab Emirates, described as being “46 seconds from Iran as measured by the flight time of a ballistic missile”. Abu Dhabi’s crown prince and deputy commander of the UAE armed forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, referred to Iran as an “existential threat” and was concerned about “getting caught in the crossfire if Iran is provoked by the US or Israel”. In one earlier conversation Bin Zayed even suggested that the US should send in ground forces if air strikes were not enough to “take out” Iranian nuclear targets.
Arab-Persian enmity, with a strong undercurrent of rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims, dates back centuries but increased markedly after the overthrow of the shah and the Islamic revolution in 1979 and is now viewed as a struggle for hegemony in the region. The conservative Sunni-ruled regimes in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states detect the “hidden hand” of Iranian subversion, sometimes where none exists. Tehran’s fervent support for Hezbollah and Hamas are seen as ways of extending Iranian influence.
In the UAE the foreign minister is described as viewing “Iran as a huge problem that goes far beyond nuclear capabilities”, the embassy reported in February 2010. “Iranian support for terrorism is broader than just Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran has influence in Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and Africa.”
Speaking to General David Petraeus of US central command in late 2009, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa “pointed to Iran as the source of much of the trouble in both Iraq and Afghanistan … [and] argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their nuclear programme, by whatever means necessary. That programme must be stopped. The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”
In Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said told the then commander of US central command, Admiral William Fallon: “Iran is a big country with muscles and we must deal with it.” A senior Omani minister singled out Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar as the three Gulf countries that would probably want the US to attack Iran.
Kuwait’s military intelligence chief told Petraeus that Iran was supporting Shia groups in the Gulf and extremists in Yemen. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly accused Iran of supplying weapons and money to the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s Saada region, though the evidence is not conclusive. US diplomatic cables also confirmed that Qatar, the wealthiest country in the region, was an outspoken critic of Iran in private, while maintaining cordial public relations with it and the US.
“Iran is clever and makes its opponents dizzy in the quest for deals,” said the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani. “They will keep you working on a deal and then start from scratch with a new interlocutor. Iran will make no deal. Iran wants nuclear weapons.” Bin Jassim “would not be surprised to see Iran test one to demonstrate to the world its achievement”. Late last year he gave a succinct summary of Doha’s relationship with Tehran: “They lie to us, and we lie to them“.
Washington’s main Arab allies outside the Gulf, Jordan and Egypt – which both have unpopular peace treaties with Israel – are also deeply hostile to Iran.
Egyptian views on Iran are uniformly negative, as quoted by US interlocutors. General Omar Suleiman, its intelligence chief, called Iran “a significant threat to Egypt … supporting jihad and spoiling peace”. He said he had warned Iran against meddling in domestic affairs (and supporting groups like the Muslim Brotherhood) and received a “very positive message” from his Iranian counterpart indicating that Iran would not interfere in Egypt.
President Hosni Mubarak attacked his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as an extremist who “does not think rationally”. He told a US congressman: “Iran is always stirring trouble”.
Mubarak, like Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, was sceptical about US plans to try to engage with Tehran after Barack Obama’s inauguration. Margaret Scobey, the US ambassador in Cairo, described Mubarak as having “a visceral hatred for the Islamic Republic, referring repeatedly to Iranians as ‘liars’, and denouncing them for seeking to destabilise Egypt and the region. He sees the Syrians and Qataris as sycophants to Tehran and liars themselves.”